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UPDATE : Provincial Health Officer On BC Nurses Agreement Re: Flu Policy

Vancouver (With files from BC Nurses Union) – While the BC Nurses’ Union (BCNU) has succeeded in ensuring the professional judgement of nurses is respected through an agreement with Health Employers Association of British Columbia (HEABC) to amend the mandatory flu vaccination policy, there is a caveat.

The new agreement, reached through collaborative efforts with HEABC, will mean an end to the “punitive nature of the previous policy” and is consistent with the flu prevention efforts released by the Office of the Provincial Health Officer.

BCNU President Christine Sorensen says the union will continue to work with the employer to encourage vaccination as a strategy to reduce flu transmission and promote the use of personal protective equipment when appropriate.

“Vaccination is one effective way of protecting patients and health care workers and we hope that this new approach, which relies more on cooperation and professionalism instead of punitive action towards health care workers will achieve our goals of reducing influenza.”

News 1130 reported that it was assumed my many that nurses who were required to wear a mask under the old policy were immediately identifiable as unvaccinated, which could lead to invasive questions or judgmental reactions invading their privacy.

Sorensen says some nurses decide against vaccination because they have had adverse reactions in the past, because of a medical condition, or as a matter of personal choice.

The obligation to get immunized or wear a mask in patient care areas has been a contentious issue for BCNU and other health care unions since it was introduced in 2012. In 2015, BCNU filed an Industry Wide Application Dispute (IWAD) after health authorities refused to revoke their mandatory “vaccinate or mask” policy.

Provincial health officer’s statement on influenza policy:

Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, has issued the following statement on changes to the provincial influenza prevention policy:

“We are very pleased to have reached an agreement with the BC Nurses’ Union, while undertaking discussions with other key unions and associations, about the need to work collaboratively to continue to take active measures to prevent transmission of influenza in all health-care settings in B.C. This includes continuing the promotion of influenza immunization as the most effective measure to prevent influenza and the appropriate use of masks for those who are not or cannot be immunized.

“The agreement includes suspending some of the disciplinary aspects of the provincial influenza prevention policy that requires health-care employees, contractors and medical staff to be immunized or wear a mask when in patient-care areas during the flu season.

“This change is supported by public health officials, health authorities, the Health Employers Association of BC, and the province’s unions and associations, who all favour a more collaborative approach and the professional judgment of our health-care staff and physicians.

“The purpose of the influenza prevention policy remains the same: to reduce death and illness from influenza by preventing the spread of influenza through immunization and appropriate use of masks by health-care workers, patients and visitors in all health-care settings.

“The only change to the policy is that employers will not discipline employees for not wearing masks. There is still an expectation that health-care providers will be immunized or use masks appropriately, but we will rely on the professionalism of all health-care workers to take appropriate measures to protect themselves and the patients we care for from influenza.

“Reporting of vaccination status remains mandatory. Non-compliance in reporting can lead to discipline.

“If this collaborative approach does not sufficiently achieve the objectives of the policy, which are aimed at protecting patients and health-care workers, the disciplinary policy may be reintroduced.

“The message to all staff and visitors to health-care facilities remains the same: get vaccinated, wear a mask and use other personal protective equipment as appropriate during flu season. It is also key to clean your hands regularly and to stay home when you are sick.”

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